BANGKOK, June 28, 2010 (AFP) - A Thai protest leader accused of terrorism was released from prison briefly Monday to apply to run in a by-election seen as a key test of the opposition's prospects of success in nationwide polls.
Kokaew Pikulthong, a senior "Red Shirt" involved in the mass rally in Bangkok that ended last month, will stand against incumbent Panich Vikitsreth of the ruling Democrat Party in the July 25 vote in the capital.
A Thai court last week granted permission for Kokaew, the candidate of the main opposition Puea Thai Party, to be released temporarily from Bangkok Remand Prison to register to challenge Panich, a vice foreign minister.
Kokaew, who has not been convicted of any crimes relating to his role in the two-month-long street protest, was later returned to detention, but is expected to seek permission to be released again to campaign for votes.
The Red Shirts' rally, which at its peak attracted up to about 100,000 people demanding immediate elections, sparked outbreaks of violence that left 90 people dead, mostly civilians, and nearly 1,900 injured.
Enraged protesters set fire to dozens of major buildings after the army crushed the demonstration by the mostly poor and working class Reds with an assault on their vast fortified encampment in central Bangkok on May 19.
The Red Shirts were campaigning for elections they hoped would oust the government, which they view as undemocratic because it came to power with the backing of the army after a court ruling threw out the previous administration.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva proposed November polls in a bid to end the crippling protests, but shelved the plan because the Reds - many of whom seek the return of fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra - refused to disperse.
Abhisit, whose government was elected by parliamentary vote in 2008 and enjoys support among the Bangkok-based elite, must call nationwide elections by the end of next year at the latest.
Many of the Red Shirt leaders are in jail facing terrorism charges for their roles in the unrest. The government has rejected the opposition's call for a state of emergency to be lifted in the capital for the by-election.